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New twist in office of chief justice contract scandal

CaseLines deal was struck without go-ahead from Sita — a legal necessity

The scandal around the office of the chief justice’s (OCJ) R225m CaseLines contract has deepened after it emerged this week that the contract was signed without permission from the State Information Technology Agency (Sita), as required by law.

The Sunday Times has established that the OCJ avoided using Sita as its supplier even though it was told that it had to use the agency as the state’s sole supplier of information systems, data processing and associated services.

The Sunday Times has also learnt of another multimillion-rand contract that the OCJ awarded to a company apparently linked to an employee.

Last week the Sunday Times reported that three senior OCJ officials set themselves up for a large slice of the R225m contract with media and technology multinational Thomson Reuters after first helping to strike the deal.

The three — former CFO Casper Coetzer; former spokesperson and chief director of court administration Nathi Mncube; and former case management director Yvonne van Niekerk — resigned from the OCJ last month and on June 1, started their new jobs as the company’s local partners. Thomson Reuters has suspended the contract pending an investigation.

We urge institutions of the state, especially those bound by the provisions of the Sita Act, to comply with the legislation on ICT procurement to avoid audit queries, irregularities and violating the law

Sita spokesperson Tlali Tlali

This week, it emerged that earlier this year, the OCJ awarded a R24m cybersecurity contract to Pursuit Knowledge Consulting (PKC) in Mahikeng.

The Sunday Times has established, from publicly available information held by the Companies  & Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), that the OCJ’s former information security officer, Sipho Matshika — who helped draw up the tender specifications and ultimately recommended the company — is a former business partner of PKC’s sole director, Masabata Shuping.  This was not declared by either party.

The contract involves establishing a threat and vulnerability management programme and includes support and maintenance for two years.

Matshika resigned from the OCJ at the end of May.

The R24m contract was not the first awarded to PKC. In 2020, after the OCJ suffered a data breach, Matshika led the process to award the company a R2.7m cybersecurity contract through an emergency deviation process.  

This week he acknowledged having played key roles in both contracts, including drawing up the tender specifications, adjudicating them and recommending whom to appoint.

However, he denied ever having been Shuping’s business partner, suggesting that the CIPC records, which show the two were co-directors in a company called Knowledgenet Consulting, were erroneous.

“You are a reporter, you know about such stories that some person finds out from the home affairs database that they are married to people that they do not even know? I’m talking about the credibility of information … I work in that space, so I would know,” he said.

“As far as I know, she was never my business partner. I was brought into that company by another lady because she wanted to get rid of it, because it wasn’t making money. Masabata only reminded me after the contract had been awarded that we were in the same [university] project management class in 2005. Even then I had not interacted with her,” he said.

Shuping said she did not know Matshika and declined to comment further.  

The apparent  procurement irregularities at the OCJ point to lapses that go to the top of the organisation. Its secretary-general, Memme Sejosengwe, was told by then Sita CEO Ntutule Tshenye in a letter dated May 2019 that “relevant information system, data processing, or associated services” could only be supplied by the agency.

“By law, the legislature has granted Sita a procurement monopoly in respect of ICT-related [information communication technology] services. Any department that seeks to deviate from the accepted and laid down principle must firstly obtain the power to procure. The power to procure can only be obtained through an exemption from the Sita Act,” he said in the letter. 

The OCJ, however, appears to have ignored this requirement. Instead, it asked permission from the National Treasury’s chief procurement officer to appoint Thomson Reuters via a sole source deviation, a request that was turned down.

The OCJ then went to court seeking a declaratory order allowing it to appoint Thomson Reuters, because it owns CaseLines and has the sole right to issue licences for it. In an affidavit submitted in the application, Sejosengwe said only CaseLines was compatible with the OCJ’s digital case- and evidence-management system and if the OCJ could not procure the licences, the entire virtual court project would have to start from scratch.

The parties reached an out-of-court settlement with the Treasury granting the OCJ permission to proceed with the Thomson Reuters contract.

But Sita spokesperson Tlali Tlali said only the minister of communications & digital technologies could approve an exemption to deviate from the Sita process on procurement parties. 

“No exemption was requested and granted in this case,” he said. The National Treasury could only authorise deviation from the Public Finance Management Act.

Tlali said Sita was also not made aware of PKC’s cybersecurity contract. 

“We urge institutions of the state, especially those bound by the provisions of the Sita Act, to comply with the legislation on ICT procurement to avoid audit queries, irregularities and violating the law,” he said.

“We have taken matters to court to have contracts set aside where the Sita procurement process was not followed. This has a disruptive effect on the recipients of services and it is something we all can live without. It is completely avoidable.”

In response to questions from the Sunday Times, the OCJ responded with a general media statement saying that after the report last week on the CaseLines contract,  it was reviewing all supply chain management processes as well as its “active contracts… for any impropriety, particularly within the ICT space”. The process, it said, would take three months.

“The OCJ takes seriously its fiduciary duty to manage and protect state resources entrusted to it… Where a perception of wrongdoing or actual wrongdoing is established in a procurement process, such wrongdoing is readily identified and the OCJ will seek legal counsel to determine the best way forward.”

–City Press



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